Tuesday of Holy Week: Two Traitors With One Big Difference

SCRIPTURES & ART: Judas clung to his sin, but St. Peter recognized his need for forgiveness.

Karel Dujardin (1622-1678), “The Denial of Peter”
Karel Dujardin (1622-1678), “The Denial of Peter” (photo: Public Domain)

The Gospels for Mass on the first days of Holy Week set the stage (albeit not necessarily chronologically) for the immediate events leading to Jesus’ Passion and Death. Judas is a constant figure weaving his way through the Gospels in the first part of the week, from his attacking Jesus for allowing expensive nard to be used to wash his feet (Monday) to the Last Supper (today) and his deal with the Temple authorities to betray Jesus (tomorrow). 

Today’s Gospel showcases two betrayals at the Last Supper. John reports Jesus making predictions about the failure of two of his Apostles. He says that one of them would betray him, discreetly adding that the traitor would dip into the same cup with him at table. When that prediction sets off outrage (and likely mutual suspicions, if not recriminations among a band of men generally noted for debating which of them was most important), Peter’s bravado announces “I will lay down my life for you!” (John 13:37). That will be technically true someday … but not before, as Jesus predicts, “the cock will not crow before you deny me three times” (13:38).

When Judas “took the morsel, Satan entered him.” There are moments when decisions are made and there’s no turning back. This is one of them. Judas gets up and exits. “And it was night.”

For John, that last observation is not just a chronological report. Earlier in John (9:4), in connection with healing the man born blind, Jesus reminds us that work — his work, God’s work — must be done during the day because, “when night comes, no man can work.” Nicodemus came to Jesus at night (John 2:2) and Jesus tells him that, though he had come into the world, “men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil” (2:19). Wrongdoers prefer to slink around in the night, lest their deeds be exposed (2:20). 

Judas slinks into the night. His departure is ambiguous: as common treasurer, they thought he was running some errand or even giving money to the poor (John 13:29). Besides, the others were probably too busy quarreling among themselves. 

It is interesting that, in his Gospel Luke makes the observation that, after having unsuccessfully tempted Jesus in the desert, the devil “departed from him for a time” (4:13). That translation is inadequate, because the word used there for “time” is καιροῦ, which is better rendered as “the opportune moment.” In Luke, that opportune moment is when “Satan entered Judas” prior to the Last Supper and he begins directly to conspire against Christ (22:2-6). 

Like Judas, Jesus does not get out ahead of his failing Apostles. Just as he remains discreet as Judas leaves, so he does not volunteer what he foresees of the others — until Peter’s big mouth causes Jesus to temper his pride by foretelling his triple denial. And still Jesus keeps quiet: He could have remarked that, but for the disciple “reclining at his side,” the remaining nine would also be hiding under some rocks within a few hours.

Most artistic depictions of Peter’s denial do not focus on Jesus’ prediction of it but rather on the actual event. Dutch Golden Age painter Karel Dujardin (1626-1678) captures the moment as the servant girl in the high priest’s courtyard insists he is one of Christ’s followers. She begins the accusation, prompting Peter’s first denial. Her insistence and the support of others triggers the rest of Peter’s fervent denials. And then the cock crows.

Two worlds come together in Dujardin’s painting. Peter, who in Christian iconography usually wears gold, is usually older, and usually sports a beard and balding head, is in first-century garb. The maiden and the two men with her are in typical 17th-century Dutch clothing or armor. A little boy behind the woman snoozes against the wall, consistent with the Bible’s observations about the lateness of the hour. 

The woman’s eyes are emphatic; the two men clearly have doubts about the strange guy in the courtyard. Peter’s eyes, face, and hand gesture betray all the sincerity of a Captain Renault: “I’m shocked, shocked you claim such things!”

Two traitorous Apostles, with one big difference. One recognized his need for forgiveness, acknowledged his love of Christ, and did eventually lay down his life for him. The other clung to his sin, refused to ask forgiveness of the only one capable of fixing his problem and, in his pride, hung himself.

Edward Okuń, “Judas,” 1901

Why Did Judas Iscariot Do What He Did?

“Let's think of the little Judases that we all have within ourselves. Every one of us is capable of choosing between loyalty and self-interest. We are each capable of betraying, of selling, of making choices based on our own interests. Where are you, Judas?” (Pope Francis, April 8, 2020)